Sunday, December 25, 2011

2011, Highs and Lows

So what were the high points and low points of 2011 for me? We were always supposed to start with a high point in my high school drama class, so I'll start there:

+ Game Cons/Retreats this year were particularly great, from Salishan in January to GameStorm in March, to WBC West in May, to the Sunriver Euro Retreat in September, to BottosCon in November, to Salishan again in December. All good times spent with good people.

- Conversely, I seemed to attract the crazy on BoardGameGeek this year. For some reason I expect gamers to be more logical, but in fact they seem to be more intent on proving how much smarter they are than the rest of us, leading to some really incredible exchanges. While I ran into some doozies, the one that had to amaze me the most was the one noting that I'd put over 100 titles up for grabs in the Jack Vasel Memorial Fund auction in November, which somehow devolved into people bitching about fundraising auctions in general and bundling of games in particular. As Matt Monin said when he shut the discussion down, "Shutting this down because..."

+ I made some new friends this year: Tripp, Jim, Rob, Art, Eric H, and probably a few more that I'm forgetting. I keep saying it, but it's still true - it's all about who you play with.

-/+ This year more than any other got me to start to really see that I don't need to buy 100 games a year. This will be a very hard habit to break, but I've already started by paring my wargame pre-order list down to something like five games total, of which two should be shipped within a few weeks. I've also realized that I don't need to get every expansion for some games, so Dominion, Thunderstone, and Combat Commander are about as complete as they're going to get, at least for now. I also don't need to get games just to see how they work.

+ Some wargames made a big impression on me this year: Labyrinth, Axis Empires: Totaler Krieg, Fighting Formations, Nightfighter, Breakthrough: Cambrai, Up Front (not new but newish to me), PQ-17, ASL, and No Retreat! All of these are games I will continue to play. A few titles continue to impress: the Fleet series, Here I Stand,

- Some wargames made a negative impression on me, some that were kind of surprising.

  • A Few Acres of Snow (arguably not a wargame, this one left me wondering what the hype was about), 
  • the East Front Series (incredible detail and a huge map for a relatively small number of combat rolls and accordingly an unfortunately increasing likelihood of the dice screwing you hard and early), 
  • Fields of Fire (new rules came out that did little to address the issues I'd brought up repeatedly - what a pyrotechnic can do and how to fill out your mission sheet, among others)
While I'm quite fond of all of the wargames I mention above, I have to give the nod for Best New Wargame to Axis Empires: Totaler Krieg. I've gone into some depth about why I think this is the grand strategic WW2 game for me in an earlier post, and while it is in some ways a reprint at the same time quite a bit has been changed in the game. I'm really looking forward to exploring this game's depths over the coming year, whether solitaire (a sure-fire way of telling if a game grabs me or not) or face-to-face. 

Honorable mention goes to Fighting Formations, which has such a novel engine under the hood. I'm not sure it's been as enthusiastically embraced by wargamers as, say, Combat Commander, and it's a much more focused set of scenarios, but there's no question it is a breakout design. 

+ Looking at the multiplayer strategy bracket, here are the plusses:
  • Mage Knight, the Board Game (really deep strategy game based on the collectable figure market game that has since been discontinued. Vlaada Chvatil does it again.)
  • Dominant Species (came out in late 2010, but this game may be my favorite multiplayer strategy game),
  • Gears of War (best GM-less "dungeon crawl" game out there, although not as fun solitaire as with others),
  • Sid Meier's Civilization came out very late last year and should be included in this category. It's a great translation of the computer game, which is hilarious since it originally started as a board game that became a computer game. We've all been waiting for a good implementation for a long time. 
- There were some disappointments as well in this category - Urban Sprawl looked to have promise after the first play, but a second play with fewer people saw my attention waning and it's unlikely to see more table time for me. Horus Heresy (played Jesse's copy) was fun but the game seemed a bit too limited in replay value to me and I am now very leery of big box games. I finally got Mansions of Madness on the table as well, and found it to be a hard game to get to love for a variety of reasons, but primarily because you're either going to be the Keeper or an Investigator when you play, and you probably won't get to switch sides because you need to know the scenario very well long before you start playing it. That and the fiasco with the expansion components, where one scenario has tiles that are on both sides of one piece. Whoops. 

Giving out a best of for this category is tough - all three of the great games are just that, great games. All bring novel approaches to game play to the table. I'm going to give the Best New Multiplayer Strategy Game award, by the thinnest of margins, to Mage Knight because of the range of scenarios, it's entertaining solitaire version, and the great bits (painted characters!) It almost lost on length and opacity of the ruleset, but I think this will be a go-to long game at cons and retreats over the coming years. 

+ By far the biggest category is for Euros. There are some great new games out there this year, especially in the deck-building area where I didn't expect such great choices as Rune Age or Eminent Domain. 7 Wonders continues to impress, especially scaling for different numbers of players. Spectral Rails was a hit with me too. I liked Blood Bowl: Team Manager as well, although I think this needs to be a four-player game. 

- And of course, a few were duds. Elder Sign completely struck out as a solitaire game, and even the iOS app is missing enough of the replayability elements for me to be wary of purchasing it. Airlines: Europe took the classic Clippers and turned it into a math exercise. Innovation has been a huge hit with my group, but I continue to wonder what the fuss is about - a lot of playing and jockeying that in the end seems to be about who knows what other cards are in the deck, and there are a lot of cards. 

This one is particularly tough because nothing really jumped out at me or broke ground. Except one game that is so different that I'm giving the Best New Euro Game award to it: Ascending Empires. Nothing else gives a real-time feel (thanks to the micro-turns), nothing else has a physical game element (the flicking to move starships), and the tech tree gives the game valuable replayability. The only downside is that the board tends to warp and you need to do some work with plexi, washers, and rubber feet if you want the game to avoid the "subspace crevasses" that my board turned into over a few days in September in a fairly dry climate, even in the big ziplock bag. 

I have a few other awards to give:

Best Event Host goes to Rob Bottos. Chris Brooks came so close, and in fact I had more fun at Chris' retreat than I may have had ever, but Rob puts on his show in a hotel and one that seems to have more than it's share of excitement - this year it was a salsa party next door that made my teeth hurt. And I play in a band. I know Chris will understand. 

Best Event goes to the Salishan Game Retreat, hosted by Chris. See my previous post for details, but it was awesome. 

Best Expansion goes to Ticket To Ride: Asia. Two new maps, a new Mountain mechanism for the "normal" side and a very cool six-player team game on the other. Biggest problem is that I need my original TtR box for the pieces and the 1910 set for the train cards (unless I want to shuffle 110 teeny tiny train cards). Three plays in three days, all great fun. Combat Commander: Resistance was a close second, but oh those "missing" Molotovs...

Biggest Disappointment goes to A Few Acres of Snow. I was very excited to give this a shot, but the reality left me happy to see the game end and go on to something else. I may try again someday, but frankly I feel like Martin Wallace has been trying a little too hard since the whole Steam debacle. 

Biggest Kerfuffle goes to Quarriors for the incredible amount of hate that game generated online. A very close Honorable Mention goes to Eminent Domain for taking so long to come out, the publisher essentially telling the Kickstarters who had supported publication that their "special" game element was actually going out to a lot more people than them. Had they not, at the last minute, found a way to give people something unique this would have won easily. 

Biggest Dick goes to... The Box. 'Nuff said.

And that's that. 

1 comment:

Rob Bottos said...

Doug, thank you for the kind words about BottosCon and it's organizer - me :) I'm really glad you enjoyed the con, and I'm glad we were able to become friends and I definitely look forward to gaming with you in the future.